It’s a new era of college football for the Virginia Cavaliers. With Bronco Mendenhall living on a ranch in the northwest, Tony Elliott takes over for a Cavs team that was no stranger to putting up points last season. Yet, their top 10 returning players indicate a clear strength but maybe a bigger weakness for the 2022 season.
Top 10 returning players at Virginia
We’re counting down all the top 10 players returning to action on every team — we’ll deal with transfers later — from Air Force to Wyoming, from Miami to Hawaii, and all in between. Here are the top returning players to Virginia.
10) Jahmeer Carter, DT
Bringing the noise from the inside of the defensive line, Jahmeer Carter returns to anchor the front for UVA. Carter was dominant against the run, recording tackles for loss from his nose tackle spot. He routinely pushed the pocket even if he didn’t get home with any sacks a season ago, as Carter required two blockers to handle him at times.
9) Darius Bratton, CB
Entering his sixth year with the program, Darius Bratton has seemingly been around forever for Cavs fans to admire. After missing the 2019 season with an injury and returning in spots during the COVID year, Bratton had a great campaign in 2021. He displayed a strong ability to break up the football at the catch point, finishing with six PBUs. Bratton was also able to make multiple key plays against the run, fighting off blocks very well on the outside.
8) Coen King, S
Coming on down the stretch last season, Coen King earned starts in seven of the team’s final eight games. He looked very comfortable handling the duties from inside the box as the team’s strong safety in those starts. King covered well and produced multiple plays on the ball. He’s a strong, physical coverage defender who also excels with his technique at the point of contact.
7) Billy Kemp IV, WR
Billy Kemp IV can play anywhere on the UVA offense. Line him up at any position, and he’ll find a way to win. He’s quick and owns a distinctive after-the-catch threat with his elusiveness. Kemp certainly plays much bigger than he stands and possesses some of the more underrated abilities at the catch point.
6) Lavel Davis Jr., WR
Do you remember in 2020 when Lavel Davis Jr. broke out in front of our eyes? After a torn ACL shut down his 2021 season, Davis returns to put his massive frame, ridiculous catch radius, and terrific separation skills on display again. For a man as big as he is, Davis moves incredibly well. He’s 6’7″ and operates like a much smaller man with his crisp routes and subtle elusiveness.
5) Nick Jackson, LB
Leading the team in tackles a year ago, Nick Jackson is back to command the defense from the middle once again. Jackson ripped through for 117 total tackles, leading the conference in 2021. His instincts were on display in every game as he also recorded double-digit tackles in seven contests. Jackson is a savvy linebacker who understands how to utilize his strength and speed to navigate to the ball very well.
4) Anthony Johnson, CB
A big-time playmaker on the outside, Anthony Johnson excelled in his first year with UVA after transferring over from Louisville. Johnson finished with three interceptions, most of which occurred at key moments for the defense. He also produced even more plays on the ball as he limited quarterbacks to very few completions in his coverage. He’s got great length, an amazing burst, and even better ball skills, a rare combination for a 6’1″ cornerback.
3) Keytaon Thompson, WR
It feels like eons ago that Keytaon Thompson was fighting for reps as the starting quarterback at Mississippi State. Now four years removed from that, Thompson has developed into one of the top receiving options across the country. Thompson finished second on the team with 973 receiving yards while leading with 77 receptions.
He’s a remarkably consistent threat over the middle of the field with sure hands, given his recent transition to the position. Thompson wows athletically as well as with his clean routes. And he adds an element with his documented ability to throw the football (and the fact that he wears No. 99).
2) Dontayvion Wicks, WR
One of the top receivers returning to college football, Dontavyion Wicks had a season to remember in 2021. Wicks finished with 57 receptions, third on the team, but went for a ridiculous 1,203 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. To say Wicks made the most of his receptions would be a great understatement. It didn’t matter whether he was being targeted 40 or four yards downfield, Wicks was coming down with the football more often than not, and if he had space to run free, no one was catching him. He pairs with his quarterback for one final season to make one of the top QB/WR combos in all of football.
1) Brennan Armstrong, QB
What more is there to be said about the big-armed lefty at Virginia? Brennan Armstrong commanded the offense and threw for a ridiculous 4,449 yards and 31 touchdowns last year. At times, few could stop Armstrong because of his ability to maneuver the pocket, buy time with his legs, and sling accurate passes downfield. He also added quite an element with his legs as he ran for 251 yards and nine touchdowns, picking and choosing his shots. It may not be sustainable, but that skill he showed with his legs may be integral as they adjust to five new starters on the offensive line this year. It’s a good thing Armstrong is such a talented dual-threat.
Honorable mention players returning to Virginia in 2022
- Mike Hollins, RB
- Grant Misch, TE
- Aaron Faumui, EDGE
- Antonio Clary, S
- Fentrell Cypress II, CB
- Hunter Stewart, LB